How complex are the ideas about climate change expressed in President Trump’s tweets? The answer is, they are about as complex as ideas he has expressed about intelligence, international trade, and immigration — landing squarely in level 10. (See the benchmarks, below, to learn more about what it means to perform in level 10.)
The President’s climate change tweets
It snowed over 4 inches this past weekend in New York City. It is still October. So much for Global Warming.
2:43 PM — Nov 1, 2011
It’s freezing in New York — where the hell is global warming?
2:37 PM — Apr 23, 2013
Record low temperatures and massive amounts of snow. Where the hell is GLOBAL WARMING?
11:23 PM — Feb 14, 2015
In the East, it could be the COLDEST New Year’s Eve on record. Perhaps we could use a little bit of that good old Global Warming…!
7:01 PM — Dec 28, 2017
In all of these tweets President Trump appears to assume that unusually cold weather is proof that climate change (a.k.a., global warming) is not real. The argument is an example of simple level 10, linear causal logic that can be represented as an “if,then” statement. “If the temperature right now is unusually low, then global warming isn’t happening.” Moreover, in these comments the President relies exclusively on immediate (proximal) evidence, “It’s unusually cold outside.” We see the same use of immediate evidence when climate change believers claim that a warm weather event is proof that climate change is real.
Let’s use some examples of students’ reasoning to get a fix on the complexity level of President Trump’s tweets. Here is a statement from an 11th grade student who took our environmental stewardship assessment (complexity score = 1025):
“I do think that humans are adding [gases] to the air, causing climate change, because of everything around us. The polar ice caps are melting.”
The argument is an example of simple level 10, linear causal logic that can be represented as an “if,then” statement. “If the polar ice caps are melting, then global warming is real.” There is a difference between this argument and President Trump’s argument, however. The student is describing a trend rather than a single event.
Here is an argument made by an advanced 5th grader (complexity score = 1013):
“I think that fumes, coals, and gasses we use for things such as cars…cause global warming. I think this because all the heat and smoke is making the years warmer and warmer.”
This argument is also an example of simple level 10, linear causal logic that can be represented as an “if,then” statement. “If the years are getting warmer and warmer, then global warming is real.” Again, the difference between this argument and President Trump’s argument is that the student is describing a trend rather than a single event.
I offer one more example, this time of a 12th grade student making a somewhat more complex argument (complexity score = 1035).
“The temperature has increased over the years and studies show that the ice is melting in the north and south pole, so, yes humans are causing climate change.”
This argument is also an example of level 10, linear causal logic that can be represented as an “if,then” statement. “If the temperature has increased and studies show that the ice at the north and south poles are melting, then humans are causing climate change. In this case, the student’s argument is a bit more complex than in previous examples. She has mentioned two variables (warming and melting) and explicitly uses scientific evidence to support her conclusion.
Based on these comparisons, it seems clear that President Trump’s Tweets about climate change represent reasoning at the lower end of level 10.
Reasoning in level 11
Individuals performing in level 11 recognize that climate is an enormously complex phenomenon that involves many interacting variables. They understand that any single event or trend may be part of the bigger story, but is not, on its own, evidence for or against climate change.
It concerns me greatly that someone who does not demonstrate any understanding of the complexity of climate is in a position to make major decisions related to climate change.
Benchmarks for complexity scores
- Most high school graduates perform somewhere in the middle of level 10.
- The average complexity score of American adults is in the upper end of level 10, somewhere in the range of 1050–1080.
- The average complexity score for senior leaders in large corporations or government institutions is in the upper end of level 11, in the range of 1150–1180.
- The average complexity score (reported in our National Leaders Study) for the three U. S. presidents that preceded President Trump was 1137.
- The average complexity score (reported in our National Leaders Study) for President Trump was 1053.
- The difference between 1053 and 1137 generally represents a decade or more of sustained learning. (If you’re a new reader and don’t yet know what a complexity level is, check out the National Leaders Series introductory article.)